|yourlibrarian (yourlibrarian) wrote in mind_over_meta,|
@ 2010-01-22 19:09:00
SPN 5.11- Where have I seen this before?
I have to say I was feeling less than enthusiastic about reviewing this episode, not because it was awful but because I just didn't find it very engaging. And then I realized what part of the problem was. One of the issues I have with all the Kripkeing that goes on in this fandom is that more often than not the fan version is better. And as we head through S5, I have often read/seen the fan version first, so the show really needs to do something special with its take. There are some stories that have dealt explicitly with one or both Winchesters in a mental treatment facility, and certainly such places feature often in horror stories (we've had Asylum as an example of that). But other fan works have dealt with the idea of Dean or Sam having breakdowns in less formal ways. In fact, when Sam, Interrupted began I had just put on pause the final chapter of hiyacynth's Mockingbird which deals with Sam's state of mind about himself and what he's capable of, and Dean's role as guide and sometimes helpless bystander to his recovery. Once the episode finished I was much more interested in getting back to that story than to try and sift out something worth discussing in the latest episode.
The problem for SPN is not just that there have been many stories already written on TV about heroes going crazy, or horror stories about mental wards, but that five seasons in there has been a great deal of deep exploration of their characters' psyches by their viewers. One can't expect a 40 minute episode to deal with these issue in anywhere near the same way as a lengthy fic, or a detailed meta post. But mostly it's that the few asides which might have been taken for insightful and meaningful in Sam, Interrupted (the codependency, the burden of the job, how the violence takes over more and more of their personalities as they go on) are things that fandom has not only explored already but even fetishizes in its creative production. For anyone who watched the series Angel, it reminds me of the big Spike/Angel showdown in S5. I liked the episode, but the verbal side of their conflict was a major rerun to what had been discussed for seasons by then. It would only have been revealing to a more casual or disconnected viewer.
But at least Spike and Angel hashed their issues out in the midst of an awesome physical fight which provided drama, and later, a small resolution. Sam and Dean didn't here, neither doing any delving into their issues, nor, for the most part, doing so with one another. Although I did laugh in spots, the episode as a whole was a yawn. So far this season, it doesn't seem like the writers have had anything particularly meaningful to say about the brothers and this leaves some of the best stuff going to the passing or other recurring characters.
The beginning, at least in retrospect, was rather interesting. The woman was trying to distinguish between things she knew were hallucinations and the real threat to her. We later know that she was deliberately being made worse by the Wraith, making her distinction to the doctor particularly poignant. She didn't just know she was ill, she knew that those visions were something "unreal." They weren't actually coming from her. This could have been a footprint for where Sam and Dean were meant to go in the episode. How much of the threat they face are things central to themselves, and how much is truly an outside threat? We get the sense that this is the larger point Dabb and Lofflin wanted to make, given the ending. Only there, Sam takes the opposite tack. He concludes that the fault was not external, it's internal.
When we first see Sam and Dean we get a small moment of suspense with humor thrown in. They get to do a season recap while suggesting at first that Sam is the one being committed. (I have to wonder why the episode is named as it is, since the events seem to apply to them both. Was there a script change at some point?) Thankfully the Wraith herself later hangs a lantern on the fact that while their honesty with the doctor was a convenient moment of humor and exposition for the episode, it didn't make a lot of sense if they were actually hunting something.
There's less of a lantern hung on the rerun of the Folsom setup, where only minor elements are changed (Sam is the one insisting on the debt being paid; the guy they owe is also in the institution, but as a patient). We do get an allusion to fallout from Ellen and Jo’s deaths but it is just a suggestion that Dean is drinking more and not dealing (see S2, S3, S4…).
I liked the character of Martin for a few reasons. The first is that it's always good to see another character that has a history with the Winchesters, even if we learn practically nothing about Martin himself or that history other than that he last saw Sam and Dean when they were no more than teens. But I did like the idea that hunters don't always die in the field or retire to a sideline in the business. We got to see a case of people who are largely broken by the job, one they used to be quite good at, having a different sort of "sad" end than the ones Dean has suggested before.
I thought Dean’s dismissal of the entire psychiatric profession seemed part of his whole “We must stay in denial” mandate, given that the professionals he did encounter seemed fairly competent (if clueless about his world). I particularly liked Dr. Cartwright, who seemed to know just how to handle Dean. I thought their meeting was the highlight of the episode, both for the writing and for the details it gave us about Dean. I don’t actually believe his answers – Dean couldn’t drink that much and get that little sleep and still be functional in his line of work where alertness counts for so much. I’m not sure whether to be amused or appalled at the suggestion that a two month relationship counts as long-term, but it’s possible that he never got farther than that with Cassie or any of his high school girlfriends. Rather. I found the exchange interesting in that he seemed to be lying in his answers to her but honest in his questions. I know that ever since Asylum there have been people curious to know just what Sam discussed in his session with Dr. Ellicott. Similarly, it would be interesting to know just what Dr. Cartwright included in their discussion.
The premise of this episode seemed largely wasted to me. The idea of Sam and Dean genuinely going crazy, not from hallucinations but from the true horror of the lives they’ve lived, could have come up with more than we got to see here – things that could have moved their characterizations (separately, if not together) forward. But the idea that Sam has trouble controlling himself and that Dean feels guilty and responsible isn’t much of a revelation. The Wraith was also a good choice as the MotW. Her motive and location made sense as she explained them to Sam, not to mention discussing how she just amplified what was already there – that Sam and Dean were in some ways making themselves crazy with their life and their decisions.
Speaking of the Wraith, part of my disappointment is that the MotW plot held no suspense for me either. Within minutes of her appearing on screen I figured out who the monster was (she's a woman who is inexplicably happy with her job in a rather depressing faciliy. Hmm…)
Another strong scene though was the one where Dean tells Martin he’s figured the case out. They both played that well. There was the poignant moment where Dean suggests that the ghost of their father is haunting them, and there are the moments of humor that seem more natural and less forced than in the rest in the episode. But a lot of the other scenes didn't work, either because they seemed too simplistic, or because there wasn't much oomph to the acting to make them more meaningful.
A good example is the scene where Dean finds Sam drugged. Sam was always a happy drunk? I guess we’ll have to take Dean’s word for it since the only times we’ve seen him drunk in the series, he’s been a pretty morose drunk, so I don't know what the writers were going for there. But what's more important, Sam doesn’t even seem particularly happy in this scene, just tired. Also, Sam telling Dean he loves him is passed off as a joke (I did laugh at the “Boop!” at the end) but I do think it’s significant that Dean doesn’t say anything back to him. This seems to be a replay of their scene before they attacked Lucifer, and suggests that it’s what Sam both wanted to say and wanted to hear. However, it's not given much weight in the direction or performance. I feel like I'm putting more effort into reading these scenes than the people producing them are.
In another case, Sam’s final discussion with Dean seemed ambiguous, though I’m not sure if it was intended to be. Is Sam really agreeing with Dean that repression is the way to go? Or does he actually mean that he’s with Dean, right or wrong, because he can’t trust himself anymore? We're clearly meant to see this scene as the "moral of the story" but what exactly it is isn't telegraphed as obviously.
The one thing I found impossible to ignore in this episode, as well as previews for the next one, is that during this entire season we've seen Sam and Dean either not being themselves or not being recognized as such. To recap:
1) Premiere – No one is who we have known them to be. We find out Dean is meant to merely be a vessel, Bobby is actually possessed, Castiel is who-knows-what, and Sam is miraculously cured of his addiction, essentially making him a different person from the previous episode.
2) 5.02 – Sam and Dean, as well as everyone else, is seen at various times to be something they're not – demons. The trick is to stop reacting to roles and signals and recognize the true enemy.
3) 5.03 is set up to, ostensibly, discover who Sam and Dean are when they are single individuals instead of SamnDean. Yet neither is really allowed to be their own island, especially by other people in their world. In the end both are challenged as not really being themselves on their own, suggesting that a large part of who they are lies in their ties to others.
4) In The End, Dean is confronted with another version of himelf, the road not taken, and meets with another version of Sam, as Lucifer.
5) In Fallen Idols, Sam and Dean are supposed to be repairing their relationship. But the intent (if not the effect) of the episode seemed to have been to demonstrate that Sam and Dean don't know who one another are anymore.
6) 5.06 seems to me the sole exception to the season in regards to their identities, although it is an episode that turns on lies, misrepresentation and belief shaping reality.
7) Dean exists in a different body, while Sam bluffs about what matters to him.
8) Changing Channels is all about Sam and Dean taking on different roles and identities.
9) In the Real Ghostbusters, they not only see themselves through the skewed prism of their fandom, but various people attempt to inhabit their identities, repeating the role playing of the previous episode in reverse.
10) In Abandon All Hope, Sam and Dean's identities as members of an extended family are explored. Unlike any other episode, this one dealt centrally with the issue of family ties –- between Ellen and Jo specifically -- but more generally among the various members of Team Hunters. Despite Bobby's occasional lines, this is the sole episode to really set up Sam and Dean as family members within a larger group. The central question here is where do they belong, who have they become? All the members in that photo with the possible exception of Ellen, have changed since S2. The results are also starkly different. What Sam did in 4.22, Dean seems fairly ready to do here -- sacrificing others for a larger goal. He first does this with Ellen and Jo, and is ready to do so with Sam at the end. We also see this questioning of place in Castiel's conversations with Lucifer and Meg.
11) Finally in this episode, Sam and Dean's identities are threatened by their own mental instability. As Sam says to Dean, from being half-mad for nearly two years, perhaps Dean (and Sam himself) have lost themselves completely.
While some episodes dealt with the theme more remotely than others, as we reach the halfway point the identity issue seems to be the one consistent thread stretching across standalones and arc episodes alike. Although I feel that this has been dealt with in a largely superficial way, it seems hard to believe that this theme isn't deliberate and won't be continuing through the rest of the season. (I think a lot of people will thus feel cheated if the much-requested bodyswap episode doesn't materialize).
What also becomes apparent is why there seems to be so much Kripkeing going on this season compared to the others. It is typical of fannish works to attempt to pick apart what makes a character unique and what shapes their approach to others. SPN is no exception to this. So in their approach, the writers seem to be venturing on what is the primary space occupied by creative fandom. Little wonder so much of the season seems like a rerun instead of progress.
1) I guess Dean and Sam must have presented excellent insurance coverage to get admitted so quickly.
2) I’m really tired of the prostate exam joke being made. Honestly, is this the worst that guys suffer that they have to make such a big deal of it all the time?
3) Martin wasn’t kidding about the guys getting big. Am I imagining it or are they both looking bulkier every season?
4) Is it my imagination or is this episode full of returning guest stars?
5) How, in the case of Ted’s death, was the Wraith able to brain suck him while Ted was strung up and Sam and Dean were at the door?
6) Ok, I really laughed at Dean’s “Pudding!” gambit.
7) Martin got to keep his hunter’s journal in this place? And Sam could conceal lock picks?
8) How was the wraith able to infect Sam and Dean slowly after the first touch and yet the effects passed immediately on her death?
9) What was Wendy’s purpose other than to serve as a momentary distraction in the plot?
10) How could Martin tell in the melee of the attack that the doctor’s cut wasn’t burning?
11) Why was there any need for a mirror in Sam’s lockdown room? Wouldn’t that be a bad idea given that it could be broken and used as a weapon?
12) Is there some reason we had to have that final scene with Sam and Dean standing around the car in the dark instead of simply in it, driving away?